Most every single one of us has experienced disaster in one form or another over the course of our lifetime.
Like the Psalmist David, we’ve found ourselves calling out to God asking, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1). Whether the disaster relates to one’s personal health, loss of loved ones, or financial challenges, many can’t help but wonder where he is in these greatest moments of despair. Many find themselves questioning God’s presence, goodness, provision, and faithfulness.
Worse still, after going through this intense phase of doubt and questioning, guilt often grows for having ever wondered these things in the first place.
For others of us currently watching friends or family members experience challenging times, it’s natural to want to step in and provide encouragement wherever possible. But often, many find themselves uncertain what to say or how to go about saying it.
Probably subconsciously, it’s easy for believers to hear questions about God’s presence amidst a storm as critiques on his character. We then feel pressured to defend him as if he were under attack—and as if we, mere human beings, were being asked to come to his aid.
This mentality often does more damage than we realize. I remember when my sister died, people would come to our family with the hopes of providing comfort saying things like “well, maybe God’s got a bigger plan” or “God works all things together for good.”
While these people had good intentions perhaps, their words did little to comfort me or my family. The truth is that when you just lost your twenty-year-old sister, you’re not thinking about the greater good or God’s bigger plan.
You’re just grieving—and that’s ok.
You have questions—and that’s OK
A Time for All Things
As the book of Ecclesiastes so eloquently put it, there’s a time for laughter and dancing—but there’s also a time for weeping and mourning.
Our years on this earth are full of seasons—ups and downs that profoundly shape us and change the trajectory of our lives. Many among us have experienced pain and tragedy. Our stories are marked by wounds and scars that are difficult to unravel; we spend months (years even) trying to understand our pasts and work our way through the grieving process.
While it’s easy to want to walk into people lives and offer up whatever nuggets of biblical wisdom we see fit, this isn’t always the most helpful approach. The truth is that we don’t have all the answers. We can’t even attempt to fully comprehend a person’s pain or explain God’s intentions or purposes in any given situation.
In our Explore God series at Highpoint Church, I recently addressed the issue head on. The message was entitled, “Why Does God Allow Suffering?” The answer was, “I don’t know.” (You can watch that message here.)
Perhaps the church needs to allow space for people to lament—to wonder why, to ask questions, and to work through grief. Maybe we needn’t be a people of quick answers but instead of soft hearts and listening ears.
Maybe the best thing we can do for someone in a time of greiving isn’t to remind them who God is with our words, but through our actions and lived out embodiment of his grace and loving-kindness. As Christians, we need to find ways to be the helpers that people know they can go to in their times of personal crisis and storm.
To those of you right now in the middle of storms of your own, know that God hears your cries—even those that go unspoken.
When my sister died, I traveled on my own to a beach about an hour away from home. It was there that I really spent time wrestling with God. I prayed (angrily, even) in response to the hurt I’d experienced. But in the midst of calling out to God, I asked him to help me trust him. I was frustrated and wounded, certainly.
Clinging to the Lord
But even in seasons of lament, my prayer is that believers would learn to cling to the Lord and allow him to give us strength when we have none left to give. It’s not about an easy life or even changing circumstances—it’s about trusting God even when things seem to be falling apart.
Psalm 13 starts with David crying out to God, asking him “How long, Lord?” It ends with a powerful declaration: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
May we be a people who aren’t afraid to cry out to the Father in times of great need. May we, like David, place our trust in the one who is with all of us in our grief. And, may we be a people who come alongside the hurting—even if all we can offer is a warm embrace and a listening ear.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.